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  • Published: 3 December 2019
  • ISBN: 9780812998528
  • Imprint: Random House US Group
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 1056
  • RRP: $81.99

The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison

A Life in Letters



An autobiography through the previously unpublished letters of the renowned author of Invisible Man, with insights into the riddle of American identity, the writer's craft, and his own life and work.

Over six decades (1933 to 1993), Ralph Ellison's extensive and revealing correspondence remarkably details his aspirations and anxieties, confidence and uncertainties throughout his personal and professional life. From early notes to his mother, as an impoverished college student; to debates with the most distinguished American writers and thinkers of his time, including Romare Bearden, Saul Bellow, Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wright, and Alfred Kazin, among others; to exchanges with friends and family from his hometown of Oklahoma City, whose influence would always be paramount, these letters communicate the immense importance of Ellison's life and work. They show his metamorphosis from an impressionable youth into a cultured man of the world, from an aspiring composer into a distinguished novelist, and ultimately into a man who confronted America's many complexities through his words.

  • Published: 3 December 2019
  • ISBN: 9780812998528
  • Imprint: Random House US Group
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 1056
  • RRP: $81.99

About the author

Ralph Ellison

Ralph Waldo Ellison, named after the preacher-philosopher Emerson, was born in Oklahoma in 1914. His father died when he was three years old and he was brought up by his mother who worked as a domestic help in white households in order to support herself and her two sons. At the age of nineteen he won a scholarship to study music at the Booker T. Washington Tuskegee Institute. In 1936 he went to New York and there met the black writers Langston Hughes and Richard Wright. He started contributing to the Federal Writers' Project, set up as part of Roosevelt's New Deal, and soon his short stories and articles began to appear in magazines and journals.

In 1943 he joined the United States Merchant Marines returning to New York after the war. Awarded a Rosenwald fellowship he was able to concentrate on his writing and, seven years after starting it, his masterpiece Invisible Man (1952) was published. Immediately recognized as a classic in its own time, and described as a 'touchstone of the 1950s', it won the American National Book Award and established Ellison as one of the major figures of twentieth-century fiction. He also published two collections of essays, Shadow and Act (1964) and Going to the Territory (1986), but his second novel, which he worked on for over four decades and repeatedly declared to be 'virtually finished', never appeared. Flying Home and Other Stories (Penguin 1996) is a collection of both published and previously unpublished short stories.

Ellison was highly regarded by both the literary and academic worlds. He was Fellow of the American Academy in Rome from 1955 to 1957 and on his return held several visiting professorships; latterly being Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities at New York University. He received the United States Medal of Freedom in 1969, became Chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et Lettres in 1970, and received the National Medal of Arts in 1985. Ralph Ellison died in 1994, survived by his wife of forty-eight years. In his obituary, the Independent declared him 'a great gentleman, indeed a noble man, and the remarkable mythologising author of ... the great American Negro novel'.

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